Two colleagues on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee spent the weekend traveling throughout the state, including the Kenai Peninsula, and discussed its energy potential.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, accompanied Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, on a tour of the Liquefied Natural Gas plant in Nikiski, as well as a production platform in Cook Inlet. The senators discussed natural gas production, which has fostered growth for more than four decades in Alaska, Murkowski said, and how that production fits into the national debate surrounding energy.
Murkowski is the top Republican on the resources committee, and Wyden is in line to replace Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico next year as the committee’s top Democrat. One of the senators will become committee’s chair. Regardless of who takes the top spot, working together requires establishing shared interests, they said.
Wyden said he thought it was important to be briefed about the natural gas situation in Alaska, which, in turn, affected his view of the national debate on energy.
Last year, Murkowski visited Oregon. She and Wyden toured a number of energy production facilities and met with energy executives, according to a press release from Sen. Murkowski’s office.
“I wanted to come particularly to listen to Alaskans,” Wyden said, “who feel strongly about exporting natural gas.
“Sen. Murkowski and others I visited made some arguments that certainly need to be followed up on. The argument to me, when you really strip it down, is that (Alaska’s exports) are not going to affect prices in the Unites States. This is gas for which there possibly might not be a market in the Lower 48.”
He wants to research those arguments before he locks into a position, he added.
Until recently, the debate in Oregon focused on importing natural gas to the state. The battle pitted the involved parties, such as farmers, fishermen and timber workers against one another. With the advent of shale gas, however, the debate has swiftly shifted to exporting, Wyden said.
Wyden spoke against LNG exports in the past for fear it would cause domestic prices to rise. Arguments from Murkowski and LNG officials for exporting natural gas have got him thinking about ways to work around the issue, he said.
Oregonians have approached the senator concerned about exporting their resources; they think some should be kept in state to reduce prices, Wyden said. Although he still doesn’t admit seeing eye-to-eye with Alaska developers and politicians, he values their arguments.
“Folks in the inlet were telling me things concurrent with what (Anchorage Mayor) Dan Sullivan and others have been telling me: If we don’t export it there will be a real challenge finding a market at all, because of the cost of transportation and the advantages that shale has in the Lower 48.”
He said visiting the LNG plant and Hilcorp Energy Company’s Steelhead oil platform gave him a chance to learn the nuts and bolts of liquefied gas.
Murkowski said demonstrations at the facility and visiting its docks, where officials explained how shipments go out, took some of the mystery of LNG.
She also expounded about resource jobs and the local economy. She referred to Hilcorp’s “workovers,” an oil industry term used to describe re-appropriating old oil wells for future use. The wells become more efficient and more productive, she said.
“It’s a reasonable yield,” she said, “and again, what we’re seeing in terms of input into the local economy, there is over a million dollars being injected into the operation. Maintenance of these platforms out here by one company, and that translates into jobs and a stronger economy here.”
The senators reiterated their desires and issues associated with natural gas while awaiting their plane at the Kenai airport. Both agreed the discussion is ongoing; both said they believe cooperation can occur within the committee, along with Congress.
“The odds are good that the ranking minority leader and the chair will be tall, they will be from the West, they will like each other and they are bipartisan,” Wyden said. “And they want to break the gridlock.”
Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.